What Is Frozen Custard?

We’ve already explored together the differences between gelato and ice cream. And we have also given you the scoop on the differences between sherbet and sorbet. Now, it’s time to examine the subtle, important distinction between frozen custard and ice cream.

What is frozen custard?

Let’s start by answering a broader question: What is custard? Custard is, at its most basic, a mix of egg yolks, cream, and sugar. It’s a French dessert staple. For my fellow Great British Bake Off fiends, you may notice they toss around terms like crème Anglaise, crème pâtissière, crème diplomat, and so on. All of these are custard varieties. Frozen custard is a bit different, though. Firstly, it’s rarely seen on the Great British Bake Off. Secondly it’s closer to ice cream or gelato than it is to any of those other types of classic custard. 

Frozen custard first became widely available in the early 20th century, when the Kohr Brothers tweaked their ice cream recipe and made some alterations to their ice cream churner on the Coney Island Boardwalk. And Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard is still around today. It is iconic for being piped out of a machine instead of scooped like ice cream.

What is frozen custard made of?

As defined above, custard is a mixture of milk or cream, sugar, and egg yolks. Frozen custard is similarly made with egg yolks, sugar, heavy cream, milk, and usually a little dash of salt and vanilla extract or vanilla bean. There are also a wide range of mix-ins for flavor variety. 

What is the difference between frozen custard and ice cream?

If you asked my eight-year-old nephew what the difference between frozen custard and ice cream was, he’d say, “It’s all ice cream to me. You’re so stupid, Uncle Luke.” I love my sister’s offspring.

But the truth is, my nephew is eight and knows nothing. The primary difference between frozen custard and ice cream is one ingredient: the egg. According to the USDA, to qualify as a frozen custard, there must be at least 10% milkfat and 1.4% egg yolk. Ice cream only needs to hit that 10% milkfat to qualify as ice cream.

That said, there are ice creams out there that are made with eggs; Haägen-Daz and Ben & Jerry’s being just two examples. That means either they don’t have enough egg in them to qualify as frozen custard, or they do have enough but are still choosing to call themselves ice cream. 

The other difference between frozen custard and ice cream is the all important “mouthfeel.” The eggs in frozen custard create a richer texture than ice cream. Also, ice cream is churned to incorporate air into the mix as it freezes, whereas frozen custard is churned in a different type of machine that does not incorporate as much air. So, frozen custard is thicker and denser and creamier than ice cream.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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